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Environment: Exxon disputing puny fine for Yellowstone River pipeline spill after reporting near-record 2012 earnings

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So many pipelines, so little oversight.

Residents of affected area want the oil company to pay the full fine

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After fouling miles of the Yellowstone River with 63,000 gallons of crude oil, Exxon can’t seem to own up to its responsibility to make amends. A delayed initial response to the Silvertop Pipeline break resulted in most of the oil flowing swiftly downstream; only a tiny percentage was recovered in the cleanup effort.

An investigation by federal pipeline safety officials found found that Exxon failed to address known seasonal flooding risks to the safety of its pipeline system, including excessive river scour and erosion, and to implement measures that would have mitigated the spill into the Yellowstone River.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also found that Exxon failed to establish written procedures for its staff to take prompt and effective action to protect the Silvertip pipeline from floods and other natural disasters, and to minimize the volume of oil released from any section along the pipeline’s system. Here is the link to the U.S. Department of Transportation page on the proposed fines. Continue reading

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Oil from Exxon Valdez spill still an environmental threat

Workers use high-pressure steam and water to try and clean up Alaska beaches after the Exxon Valdez spill.

ExxonMobil tries to avoid paying for new remediation efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal scientists say oil from the Exxon Valdez spill more than 20 years ago is still affecting coastal ecosystems in Alaska and requires more restoration efforts — But Exxon (now ExxonMobil) attorneys are asking a federal court to release the company from any additional financial liability for the spill.

According to recent documents filed with U.S. District Court in Alaska, some of the oil that gushed from the busted tanker is degrading more slowly than anticipated and remains as a toxic exposure threat to to sea otters, harlequin ducks and other animals using intertidal habitats.

According to the latest court filings, discovery of the oil raises several questions that must be addressed before finalizing the details of a restoration plan, including the location and extent of the oil, factors limiting natural degradation and a quest for new technologies to accelerate the degradation and dispersal of the residue. Continue reading

Yellowstone River: Experts struggling to clean heavily oiled debris piles; some may have to be physically removed

Containment booms placed across the Yellowstone River to capture spilled oil. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE/DAVID ROUSE.

High-pressure water can do more damage than good, some experts say

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The EPA and ExxonMobil are close to agreement on a plan to clean up the oil from a broken pipeline in the Yellowstone River in Montana. EPA officials said Wednesday they are reviewing a revised plan that was submitted this week and will make a final decision early next week.

Meanwhile, cleanup experts are still puzzling over how to clean the oil coating shoreline debris and vegetation.

Wednesday, cleanup crews tested high pressure water hoses to clean oil off the flood debris. According to the EPA’s afternoon briefing, the meth proved ineffective and probably won’t be used as a cleanup technique.

Some cleanup experts say using high pressure hoses can cause added damage. Long-term monitoring of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska showed that using high-pressure hoses to clean beaches actually forced the oil down deeper into the crevices between pebbles, resulting in longer-lasting environmental impacts, said Dee Bradley, a New Mexico-based oil spill cleanup expert. Continue reading

EPA finds oil 45 miles downstream of spill on Yellowstone River and says endangered sturgeon could be affected

The Yellowstone River.

Water samples collected all the way to North Dakota, lab results due Friday

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — EPA officials said Wednesday that aerial surveys of the Yellowstone River are showing signs of oil as far as 45 miles downstream of the spill site at Laurel Montana. Visit the EPA website for the spill.

A pipeline that burst early last weekend may have spilled more than 42,000 gallons of oil into the water before it was shut off by operator ExxonMobil.

The agency is taking water samples even farther downstream, but doesn’t expect lab results until Friday, according to Matthew Allen, a spokesman for the agency who arrived at the scene Wednesday.

“We’re doing sampling all the way down the river … clear into North Dakota,” Allen said. Continue reading

EPA now coordinating oil cleanup in Yellowstone River

Western oil pipelines have a history of serious problems

A schematic of crude oil pipelines in the U.S.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — According to the EPA, there are now about 350 responders at the site of a July 1 oil spill in Montana, working to clean up about 1,000 barrels of oil that leaked into the Yellowstone Rive after a pipeline ruptured.

The EPA is directing and overseeing cleanup activities since arriving at the site. Personnel continue to walk the shores and deploy absorbent boom along the river banks to absorb oil that has collected in slow water areas along the shoreline. Responders continue to work to assess where the oil has traveled and what impact it may be having.

EPA Region 8 Administrator Jim Martin briefed Governor Schweitzer and other state officials on the cleanup operation today and led the group to view on-site response activities. Continue reading

EPA: High flows in Yellowstone River hinder oil spill clean-up

The Yellowstone River.

Delayed response illustrates need for regionally based cleanup teams

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean-up experts said high flows in the Yellowstone River will make it hard to recover the thousands of gallons of oil that spilled after a 12-inch ExxonMobil oil pipeline ruptured upstream of Billings, Montana.

The swift flows are spreading the oil over a large area making it harder to capture. But the rapid dispersion of the oil may also reduce damage to wildlife and croplands along the river, according to Steve Way, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA. Read more at the Missoulian.com.

ExxonMobil said it’s ramping up cleanup efforts by bringing in specialized teams. But those efforts may be too little, too late.

The EPA pointed out as recently as late June that having specialized regional cleanup teams in place is critical for a timely response. According to an EPA paper, response times for inland oil spill often push or exceed federal legal requirements for a response within 12 hours.

“These response times can be critical, particularly when the product has reached fast moving waters such as rivers and streams,” the authors of the EPA inland oil spill response study wrote.

“We are bringing in experts from across the country to clean up the oil,” ExxonMobil Pipeline Company president Gary Pruessing said in a press statement. “We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for any inconvenience the incident is creating.” Continue reading

Oil spill fouls Yellowstone River in Montana

ExxonMobil says leak is capped but can’t pinpoint quantity of leaked oil

An ExxonMobil pipeline leaked an unknown quantity of oil into the Yellowstone River upstream of Billings, Montana.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — If you thought the Rocky Mountains were immune to the danger of oil spills, guess again.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company acknowledged July 2 that its operations were the source of a significant spill into the Yellowstone River, resulting in temporary downstream evacuations.

The company was able to pinpoint the source of the oil to a 12-inch crude oil pipeline running from Silvertip to Billings, Montana, but was not able to say how much oil spilled into the river.

Here’s the ExxonMobil statement: “Early on the morning of July 2, we discovered an undetermined amount of crude oil was released into the Yellowstone River from an ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) pipeline. EMPCo deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment … Continue reading

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